COVID-19 #3: Sara

Photo by 215pix

Sara Griswold is a former midfielder who played for YMS and whose knees gave up before college. Now, she watches soccer at home, just across the river, and works in marketing.

Sara Griswold

A lot of PSP’s readers know that our staff is comprised entirely of volunteers. But few staff and readers know that I actually pull double volunteer duty as a New Jersey EMT. I became a volunteer EMT in December 2017, after 240 hours of class, 10 hours assisting in an emergency room and a passing grade on the state exam. I live in Mercer County, specifically Hopewell Township where there are three volunteer fire departments and emergency medical squads – I am an active riding member for two of them.

This past Saturday night I responded to a call that required additional PPE.

Hearing those words from dispatch has a whole new terrifying meaning. Before all of this, it generally meant the residence was a known unsanitary house, aka a hoarder house. Now it generally means someone in the house has or is suspected of having COVID-19. This specific call came in as a seizure call, so I grabbed my one N95 mask that I have and I went to the firehouse to jump on the ambulance.

First thing I did at the firehouse was put on a jump suit. I never put on a jump suit, but I had to if I wanted to wear my own clothes again back to my house. The next thing I did was make sure our additional PPE bag was prepped and pull out a kit for myself and my partner who was driving. At this point, we got a second request from dispatch because we had already waited ten minutes before saying we were responding. That’s about five minutes longer than it normally takes to get the ambulance out of the station, five minutes that someone who just had a seizure or is still actively seizing has significantly less oxygen.

We were notified that a resident in the home had tested positive for COVID-19, not our actual patient. That meant we still had to wear full PPE and treat our patient like they were positive. So we did. As our ambulance pulled up to the house, we could see the family all sitting on their front porch wearing masks. They watched us put on our gloves, our white gowns over our jump suits, our glasses and our face shields, and finally our white gown.

It took a good five minutes.

The only part of my body that was still visible and not obstructed by PPE was a one inch tall strip of skin and my eyes behind clear glasses and a face shield. Normally, I just wear gloves and I’m practically jumping out of the ambulance as it’s rolling to a stop.

Once I was wearing appropriate PPE, I walked up to the front porch and, from six feet away, tried to assess the situation. I learned that the patient had passed out for a few seconds and had been unable to keep food or water down for four days, likely experiencing extreme dehydration. I helped the patient into the ambulance, letting them catch their breath and get through a bout of dizziness. After that passed, the first thing the patient said to me, their voice trembling, was “I know I should have gone to the hospital earlier, I’ve felt terrible for days… I was just so scared. I didn’t want to go alone. I’m still scared to go alone now.”

We can’t bring family members in the ambulance with us now. Every hospital I take patients to does not allow family or visitors inside, only patients and staff. I knew that and so did this patient, and I sat there as my heart broke.

The word alone kept ringing in my ears, this person in front of me felt so alone and scared. So I reached out and put my gloved hand on their knee while they broke down. I apologized for not looking human in all of my PPE, for scaring them and making them feel worse. I apologized for the situation we were in at that moment and how their family couldn’t come with us. I apologized for their family member being sick, for how other people might be treating them after hearing that someone in their home is sick. I offered my hand for them to hold onto, I offered to be their family for the ride to the hospital, I offered to be a human being and treat them like a human being.

Providing emotional support for patients isn’t something new to me. I learned in class that emotional support is one of the best things I can provide as an EMT, second only to proper medical care.

Last year I hugged an 18-year-old in the emergency room after we brought in his 8-year-old cousin, they’d been in a car crash and the teenager walked away without a scratch, while the kid wasn’t as lucky. On multiple occasions I’ve pat distraught family members on the shoulder, telling them they did the right thing calling us when their family member had a breakdown and wouldn’t take their pills/took all of their pills/took illegal drugs.

Comforting someone in an emergency medical scene is not new to me, but this one got to me.

I’ve seen this a lot recently. It’s not always this emotional, but every call I’ve gone to people ask if it’s necessary for them to go to the hospital, because they’d really prefer not to go and risk getting sick.

Our call volume for both squads has really decreased since this pandemic began. It’s good and bad.

I haven’t been on a MVC (motor vehicle collision) call, a trauma call (shockingly), or an overdose call in a long time. That’s a positive thing. But I’ve also responded to fewer stroke calls, seizure calls, cardiac calls, diabetic emergency calls, and allergic reaction calls than normal. That’s a negative thing.

Just because this virus is wreaking havoc doesn’t mean that all other medical conditions and emergencies stop or decrease. People are just terrified of going to the hospital now. And that in and of itself is terrifying. If you are truly having one of those medical emergencies, you need proper medical care. Suffering through a stroke or cardiac arrest or bout of hyperglycemia alone can kill you much faster than COVID-19.

Please, call 911 for medical emergencies.

People are still there, ready to take care of you safely; people still care and will do everything they can for you. I know, I’m one of them and that is the only thing about being an EMT that hasn’t changed for me in the last six weeks.

Editor’s note: Sara sent this, in addition to here piece, about where this true story fits in the timeline of her life.

Just so you guys know, this call came in right around 9:30pm on Saturday, 4/18 and I came home from it after spending an additional hour decontaminating the ambulance at 12:10am on Sunday, 4/19. Calls are usually 2 hours at the most, so we added about 1.5 hours to a call that would normally be 1.5 hours. Also, Sunday was my boyfriend’s birthday, and the first thing I said to him when I got home was “I gotta take a shower to wash off the bleach smell after going through decon. Oh, and happy birthday.” I still can’t believe that that was the first thing I said to him on his 29th birthday… 


  1. Thank you, Sara, and all other first responders, essential workers, and everyone else working hard to navigate this challenging time.

  2. Sara, thanks for your work here on PSP and thank you for following your calling in life where you are touching so many.

    As a Primary Care doctor I often find the “medicine” most in need both now and before this all began is compassion and empathy and being able to help calm someone’s fears and anxiety is very rewarding to me. I have not been particularly impacted by the ongoing pandemic other than having more time with my family at home which is a blessing for me. I miss being able to see my patients and colleagues in person other than the one day a week I go into the office rather than do phone or video visits from home. Those of you that are first responders are doing something I could not do so thank you again.

    For all the essential personnel like teachers and drivers and grocery store workers thank you as well. And everyone should remember to be gracious and kind to others now and continue to follow the recommendations of health experts so we can get past this and get back to hating NY and DC supporters like proper Philly fans.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I’m an RN. Work on a resource team moving in an out of multiple units settings and hospitals. For a while things were easy and calls few as the calm before the storm began gathering. Now, the ICU’s across the hosptials are all filled and in some cases overflowing. Typically work 2/5 shifts in an intensive setting now its 4.5/5. It’s interesting the narrative out there how hosptial networks are laying off workers from a lack of work. That may be the case in Peoria. Bozeman. etc etc… that may be the case, but in the NE Corridor and other parts of the country hit as a bullseye on the target…there is a shortage of staff as best I can tell and hear. People are getting sick and missing work. Furloughed. It is busy and disconcerting to enter a 32 bed intensive unit and see every patient there hooked up to a ventilator all Covid positive… then set about taking care of those people – with a nearly flawless attention to detail about how to gown up – gown down –and do it in an order that does not get a person sick someday soon using one gown the whole shift and one respirator which gets sterilized for three shifts. Good luck Sara. Be safe….
    And “that’s all I have to say about the war against Coronavirus” as Forrest Gump quipped.

  4. A huge thanks for doing what you do Sara! You too Elephant Man! My bride works urgent care as an RN. I also have a good friend who is a dialysis technician in North Jersey…the epicenter of infection! I hope everyone stays safe! I also appreciate your sharing your story. It’s nice to be able to read some fresh content on this page. It’s not soccer….but still a great read!
    Thanks again!

  5. Steven Whisler says:

    Thank you for everything you’re doing, Sara! Amazing bravery in a time that calls for special people.

  6. Tim Jones says:

    Sara, I am proud to know you.

  7. Glad I logged in again at PSP after some time and read this. Thank you all (Sara and Elephant man and all others) for all you do and giving us some feedback from the front lines. Stay safe, healthy and strong!

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